Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Insanity Sorority

When it comes to the art of investment, I have concluded I have a new diagnosis.  Years ago, I would have said ‘multiple personalities’ but now we call it ‘dissociative identity disorder’. Yes, I must come to a place of acceptance and shift over the boxes of craziness piled up in apartment D to make room for the newest acquisition. 

The DSM-IV lists four criteria for diagnosing someone with dissociative identity disorder:

  1.    The presence of two or more distinct "identities or personality states;
  2. At least two personalities must take control of the person's identity on a regular basis;
  3. Exhibits aspects of amnesia, that is, the person forgets routine personal information
  4.  “Direct physiological effects,” such as drug abuse or head trauma, must not have caused the condition.

Seeing as I don’t recall any stories of being dropped on my head as a child or having experimented with drugs at all, we can put a check next to box #4.  #3 is a bit tougher seeing as if I had amnesia, I probably wouldn’t remember aforementioned head trauma or drug use, and also wouldn’t be aware of the amnesia in the first place. Still, Dissociate Identity Disorder seems to be a new houseguest.

Personality state #1 – we’ll call her Discount Debbie. Discount Debbie can list the nearest Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Ross for Less.  She frequents the Dollar store and sneaks over to Wal-Mart, pushing aside the global guilt for supporting a market that just may be killing all small businesses in America and employing toddlers in third world countries because…well, just because it’s so darn cheap! Discount Debbie is the one that veers the shopping cart over to the Clearance shelves in the corner of the grocery store, tossing in dented cans of tuna, discontinued flavors of tea and boxes of cereal that are almost expired. She does occasionally draw the line though. Last week, tucked amidst the wilting flowers and day-old bagels, there were stacks of expired pregnancy tests.  I am proud to say that even she knew a pregnancy test is just one of those things best selected from it’s regular shelf.

She is a hunter, honing in on her prey and emerging victorious, arrogantly sneering that those poor fools in the checkout line who are paying four times the amount when her can of tuna will taste just as good.  Discount Debbie took copious notes from Bubby Ida, the grandparent raised in the Depression who modeled the art of Sunday coupon clipping and how to re-use tin foil. Discount Debbie definitely has the required amnesia.  She forgets the cheap coffee pot that cracked on its second day or the sheets bought for a handful of change that felt like cardboard.  She, like I often do, has quite the slow learning curve, needing to be re-taught that there are times when it’s worth the higher price for higher quality; that not all brands are declared equal; that buying the better microwave might save money in the long run and also perhaps a radiation-induced illness. 

Discount Debbie is the one who wanders through Marshalls, filling a cart with cute gifts and home decorations only to approach the checkout line and slowly nix each item as unnecessary as she waltzes out empty-handed. She has the attention span of a fruit fly while clothes shopping,  grabbing hangers to be tried on in a marathon dressing room session before the buzzer stops and that’s all for now folks.

Shopping for books is where we meet Personality state #2.  If only Banana Republic sold chapter T’s and jeans composed of cover pages, I would be a happy camper.  In a bookstore, I transform into Millionaire Molly, drooling over the ‘New Arrivals’ and ‘Editor’s Picks’.  I trail my fingers across the tables of memoirs showcased by the entrance and linger in the rows of fiction.  Millionaire Molly wants it all.  She cloaks herself with envy and strings her neck with book lust, wishing for a magic credit card so she could wave her arms across the store and say, “wrap it all up. I’ll take them all.”  She is seduced by the greeting cards all so nicely sorted by occasion, is brainwashed by the smooth pages of journals and the covers of the newest bestsellers.  She totes her wish list of books, piling them in her arms, in her basket, on her head, between her knees. She dreads the painful moment of rejection, setting aside the discarded pages gently with whispered promises to be back soon.  Millionaire Molly may not emerge with any more shopping bags that Discount Debbie, but that is due to a lack of income and not a lack of value in the product.  Millionaire Molly embraces her materialist leanings and hungers for more books on her shelves. 

So okay, I can name the shopping gals I become, that’s a good first step. And in terms of the damage they do, this kind of craziness I can live with.  When you house a sorority of insanity, you need to prioritize whom to oust.  Discount Debbie and Millionaire Molly play nicely with others and aren’t life-threatening, so for now they can renew their lease.  The one up for review is Splurges for Crumbs Sally.

Splurges for Crumbs Sally doesn’t touch the checkbook or stand in the checkout line.  She skips the bookstores, the malls, and the coupons in the newspaper. Splurges for Crumbs Sally trades in relationships.  She invests in friends: making calls, sending cards or texts, hosting play dates, and remembering important occasions.  She understands that relationships are the most precious commodity and are worth the extra dollar.  Splurges for Crumbs Sally tries her best to call when she says she will, show up if she made a commitment, send the birthday card, write the email detailing all of the ways you are important and valuable and loved. She trains for the gold medal of friendship, although she definitely has false starts and fumbles along the way.  But Sally has a huge blind spot.  She shells out thousands without actually examining the item.  She scans the shelves, searching for kind eyes, an easy smile, sharp humor, or an available shoulder.  When she picks up a scent, the sale is finalized and the expectations rolled out before consulting the manual to know if the purchased model actually performs the desired functions. 

Splurges for Crumbs Sally is the one who puts up with malfunctioning kindnesses and cracked loyalties, trying to patch them up with blind patience and understanding. She uses the apologetic excuses to dismiss the charges, along with her hurt feelings and rejected ego.  She opens a fresh page and starts again, because if she was a better friend, more understanding, more forgiving, more fun, then this time you will show up when you say you will, you will respond to the call, you will offer to listen.  She puts up with the crumbs you offer because they’re deliciously unique, because your crumbs know her better than others, because there is a lack of crumbs in the neighborhood right now.  Splurges for Crumbs Sally opts for infinite chances, firm in her belief that should she require equal treatment, you would walk away and deem her ‘not worth the trouble’. She puts up with crumbs because she values you more than she values herself. She knows that a clearance aisle friend can’t reject a ‘Limited Edition’. 

She hasn’t yet learned to change brands or to stop ordering from the same pool of friends.  She can’t seem to remember that she has power in the situation, or that she is the one putting them in the cart before displaying them while moaning about their lost shine.  Splurges for Crumbs Sally bruises her knees on the coffee table day after day but tries to tiptoe around it instead of adjusting it, padding it, or placing the table by the curb. 

I believe that Sally has worn out her welcome.  I think she grasps the value of friendship and I agree: Relationships should be splurged on.  Connections with others add richness, laughter, comfort, and joy. If anything should be invested in, it is in our treatment of others and the way we show up.  But Splurges For Crumbs Sally reeks of double standards.  She wants perfection from her investments but in the face of disappointment, she writes off their flaws with a flourish of rationalization and forgiveness. She holds herself up to perfection while settling for mediocrity from others.  She whines about feeling unloved, replaced, and forgotten as she waits in line to purchase another bagful.  She needs to work on choosing herself, investing in herself, valuing herself as much as she does her friends.  She needs to march herself off the clearance aisle.

 I vote to merge Sally with her other shopping pals.  She would do well to incorporate Discount Debbie’s view that inevitable dents and imperfections come attached to beautiful products. Millionaire Molly can enlighten the crew on seeing all of the shelves to browse instead of getting stuck in the Bargain Books. She preaches the permission to practice retail therapy as well as how to place yourself on the purchase wish list.

I definitely fit the dissociative identity criteria in terms of shopping habits which means there is work to be done. I diminish Discount Debbie as I opt for the full-price homemade jam or the minty name-brand shampoo.  I practice the art of buying gifts for myself as well as others.  I visit bookstores as destinations, whiling away afternoons content with my literary company.  I tug Millionaire Molly into the library where Discount Debbie appears and both of them are content.

I enlist Splurges for Crumbs Sally as I implement a friendship budget. I attempt to find investment partners and start to require reciprocal kindnesses instead of settling for relationship pennies. I stop writing blank checks for friends and request a payment plan in an effort towards balance. I realize that it might mean downsizing while I search for new markets.  I also recognize the unfairness of my expectations and work to speak my terms instead of waiting for friends to be mind-readers.

I appreciate Discount Debbie, Millionaire Molly, and Splurges for Crumbs Sally, knowing their efforts to save, to reward, to care for and build community stem from good intentions.  However, I don’t have to fall under their spell.  That’s the beauty of being the dominant personality: if you do the work, you get to be the one left standing. You get to be the one in charge.  So, thank you very much Debbie, Molly and Sally. I’ll take it from here.

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